Shed Seven performing at the V Festival
Weston Park, 2008
Artful Records (2001–2002)
Taste Media (2003)
Shed Seven are an English indie rock band from York and were one of the groups which contributed to the Britpop music scene that evolved during the 1990s, yet never received the degree of mainstream success achieved by bands such as Oasis and Blur. They formed in 1990 and originally comprised Rick Witter (vocals), Joe Johnson (guitar and keyboards, later replaced by Paul Banks), Tom Gladwin (bass) and Alan Leach (drums).
They belonged to the post-Smiths wave of UK musicians such as The Sundays and Marion, with a sound relying heavily on complex guitar arpeggios often in a minor key, and wailing vocals. At the height of their popularity between 1994 and 1999 they had fifteen Top 40 singles[2 ] and four Top 20 albums in the UK.[3 ] The band officially broke up in 2003, but announced their reformation for a greatest hits tour in July 2007.[2 ]
Shed Seven formed in 1990 from the ashes of Brockley Haven, a band featuring frontman Rick Witter, guitarist and songwriter Paul Banks, bassist Tom Gladwin, Magnus Thompson and John Leach, brother of Alan Leach. Both Witter and Banks had also previously played together in a band named ENAM, performing to German exchange students in Banks's front room. The band's name derived from a railway shed during a return trip to York; as they approached York railway station, they noticed a small shed on the sidings labelled "Shed 7". Prior to signing a six-album deal with Polydor Records in October 1993, guitarist Joe Johnson left the line-up and was replaced by Paul Banks. The band twice entered the local Fibbers/Evening Press Battle Of The Bands competition, twice failing to win, whilst in September 1993, still unsigned, they were voted the third best live act at London's Inner City Festival. The initial press attention enjoyed by the band came as a result of the positive reviews of their live shows, coupled with complimentary comparisons to The Smiths. In March 1994, an article by Dave Simpson of Melody Maker, charting the aspirations of "the UK's brightest hopes", stated that; "...Shed Seven's beautifully posed, epic music is different. Not so much New Wave Of New Wave as post-Smiths, they're taking the insular bedsit angst of Morrissey's early music and subverting it with a brash and insensitive sexual narcissism."
Their debut single, the double A-side "Mark"/"Casino Girl"—labelled by NME as "spirited 'Barbarism Begins At Home' skirl" —was released on 7 March 1994 to considerable acclaim from some sections of the music press, but failed to make the UK Top 40. The follow-up single, "Dolphin", a song co-written with former member Johnson during Banks' two year absence from the band's line-up, was released on 13 June 1994 peaking at number 28[3 ] with first week sales reaching 15,000, leading to Shed Seven's first Top of the Pops appearance on 23 June 1994. Despite their third single release, "Speakeasy", entering the UK charts at number 24 and giving them their biggest hit to date[3 ], the first negative press reviews began to emerge. Writing for the UK music magazine NME in August 1994, John Mulvey believed that it represented "[f]our clumsy blokes trying to come over all sensuous, fragile and complex."—"Speakeasy" was later to be re-written as an advertising jingle in 1999, for the mobile phone company The Link,[9 ] with Witter later admitting regret at his re-recording and re-wording of the original. As a result, the song was omitted from Shed Seven setlists for a number of years, only making its live comeback as a stripped-down acoustic version on their "farewell" tour in December 2003.
In September 1994, the band released their debut album, Change Giver, entering the UK album chart at number 16[3 ] and giving the group their first Gold disc. Despite it spending just two weeks in the chart, the "critically underrated debut album",[10 ] which NME declared "an attempted stab in the face of their critics",[10 ] gave the band three UK Top 40 singles.[3 ] As well as enjoying popularity in both the UK and Australia, Shed Seven also found an audience in Thailand, where they managed to beat Take That to the Christmas number 1 spot with their fourth single release, "Ocean Pie". The following April, "Where Have You Been Tonight?", the first record to emerge from the band's collaboration with their new producer, Chris Sheldon, was issued as their fifth single, peaking at number 23 and continuing the band's chart-placing run. Although the single was "rush released" with the intention of it being followed by a swiftly recorded sophomore album, the band failed to capitalise on the song's success as it became Shed Seven's one and only release throughout 1995.
With five UK Top 40 entries in 1996,[3 ] Shed Seven had more hit singles than any other act that year, the high point coming with the release of their seventh single, "Going For Gold", which entered the UK chart at number 8 on March 17[3 ] and remains their biggest chart hit to date. A sold-out thirteen-date Autumn tour followed, including their debut at the York Barbican Centre. The definitive band line-up released 3 studio albums - Change Giver (1994), A Maximum High (1996) and Let It Ride (1998) - along with a greatest hits compilation, Going For Gold (1999). The release of the latter was forced upon the band by their record company, Polydor, after Let It Ride failed to match the album sales of its predecessor, which sold 250,000 copies in Britain alone.[13 ] Despite the band's reservations about issuing such a compilation so soon in their career, the album went on to sell 130,000 copies and featured brand new material in "Disco Down" and "High Hopes", both intended to be issued as singles. "Disco Down" went on to become the last Banks-era hit for the band, peaking at number 13,[3 ] whilst "High Hopes" was sidelined by Polydor in favour of a proposed re-release of the previous single, "Going For Gold". However, the band refused to comply, leading to Shed Seven and Polydor Records parting company in late 1999;
The Greatest Hits wasn't our idea - we felt it was a few years too early - but agreed to do it on the understanding that we would release two new singles from the album. 'Disco Down' did really well and we were all prepared to follow it up with 'High Hopes', the video script was approved and it was ready to go to radio, when some higher authority decided it would be a better idea to re-release 'Going For Gold' instead. We put our foot down and said 'no way, we are not going to rip off our fans with old material'. In fact, most people at the label thought it was an awful idea.
In December of the same year, Paul Banks left the band by mutual discontent, with Rick Witter citing "musical differences" for the split. During an NME interview about his post-Shed Seven band, The Rising, Paul commented on his departure from the group; "I've never really felt part of a band until now. [Shed Seven] wasn't really about that. I wanted to work with people who I respected who would respect me back. That was something that was definitely lacking. Now I feel like I'm in my favourite band." Banks was eventually replaced by original guitarist Joe Johnson, while part-time keyboardist Fraser Smith was also added to the permanent line-up. The band signed a new contract with Artful Records, and in 2001 went on to release their fourth studio album, Truth Be Told, which spawned two further singles in "Cry For Help" and "Step Inside Your Love". Despite finding themselves a new deal, the band were continually dissatisfied with the lack of promotional support from their label, and frustrated by apparent mismanagement and delayed releases. This was highlighted by Artful's decision to change the band's "Step Inside Your Love" single release from a 2 CD chart-eligible format to a non-eligible 4-track EP, ending their chances of a fifteenth consecutive chart hit. The band were further hindered by BBC Radio 1's refusal to playlist them in their post-Polydor days despite DJ Chris Moyles being a long-time supporter of the band. As a result, Shed Seven quit Artful Records in 2002.
In 2003, Shed Seven found a new home at Taste Media, and soon returned to the charts in the form of their seventeenth single, "Why Can't I Be You?", released on May 5 and peaking at number 23.[3 ] This proved to be their first and last single release for the label, as the band lost patience with Taste's refusal to release their fully recorded would-be fifth studio LP, slated for release in September 2003. With Taste demanding another big hit before they were willing to release a new Shed Seven album, the ready and complete LP was held back indefinitely. As a consequence, the band announced their imminent split via a statement issued through the official Shed Seven website on 23 November 2003, explaining that their then-current UK tour—which took place between November and December of 2003—would become the group's "farewell tour":
Although we feel that certain aspects of the music industry have put a strain on the recording side of things in recent years, the one thing that has remained consistent throughout has been the band’s love of performing live and the ability to please the fans by giving 100% every time. This is exactly what we plan to do at these last remaining shows, making a special effort to play what people want to hear. It will be a celebration, a retrospective, a Shed Seven tour to remember.
The final tour was a sell-out success, with the last gig played on 20 December 2003 at the Barbican Centre, in their hometown of York. One further album release did, however, come of their time at Taste: their only official live album, Where Have You Been Tonight? Live. Recorded at various destinations on tour in December 2002, the album was released in May 2003, six months before the band's farewell tour began. Despite gaining a loyal and ever-growing following of fans—sometimes referred to as "Shed Heads"[9 ]—the band failed to receive universal positive press attention in the UK; NME never featured Shed Seven on its cover, whilst the now defunct Melody Maker did so once.
An alternative hits album, The Collection, which in large part featured album tracks and B-sides, surfaced in 2004. In 2005, after many requests from fans, the band eventually released an official post-split album, One Hand Clapping. The 'new' material, which would have comprised the band's fifth studio album, featured unreleased demos of songs that were submitted to, and refused by, Taste Media in 2003. The album was initially released in a strictly limited run of 1,000 copies, although a Japanese version of the album, complete with four extra acoustic tracks, enhanced sleeve notes and complete lyrics, surfaced in June 2006.
Former lead singer Rick Witter began a solo career with Rick Witter & The Dukes in 2005. The band played several low-key gigs in Scotland as well as two sold-out shows in York shortly before Christmas of the same year, before embarking on a month-long tour in April and May 2006. Their debut album, The Year Of The Rat, was released on April 16, 2007. Alan Leach returned to York, where he teaches drums[9 ] and runs "speedquizzing" in two of the city's bars, whilst Tom Gladwin went on to join the Leeds-based pop/dance outfit The Clients with former members of The Dandys. In 2007, Tom formed a new band, people:in airports, with singer-songwriter and guitarist Paul Downes. After leaving Shed Seven, Paul Banks went on to form The Rising, a York-based band comprising of Banks, David McKellar (formerly of The 88's), Rob "Maxi" Maxfield (formerly of Audioweb) and Stuart Fletcher (formerly of The Seahorses and currently with Rick Witter & The Dukes). Banks also became a freelance film-maker, starting his own production company, and a music tutor,[9 ] teaching guitar, bass and songwriting at his studio in Pocklington. Joe Johnson also teaches guitar[9 ] in his hometown, and joined a new York-based band named the Black Sours. Fraser Smith is now a London-based record producer and songwriter, currently signed to Notting Hill Music, and has produced and mixed records for acts such as Ian Brown, Hayley Hutchinson and The Yards.
On 7 July 2007, after widespread rumours, the band announced a greatest hits reunion tour of 14 UK venues for November and December 2007, starting at the Music Hall in Aberdeen on November 27 and culminating at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire on December 14.[2 ] The reformed line-up featured all of the band's original members, including both Joe Johnson and Paul Banks, who appeared together for the very first time; keyboardist and songwriter Fraser Smith, however, took no part in the reunion. It was the first time Banks had appeared on stage with the band since his departure in 1999.[2 ] The band's accompanying official announcement stated that: "These plans do not affect the individual members’ projects which will continue as before. This includes Rick, who recently released a debut album with his new band The Dukes". Yet, despite this vow, both Witter and Banks' respective bands - The Dukes and Albion - suffered due to the renewed commitment to their old band's new outing. Banks parted company with the Alistair Griffin-fronted outfit the following month, whilst Witter completed one further UK tour with The Dukes prior to Shed Seven's Reunion Tour warm-up show in Hull on 25 November.
By mid-July, several major venues had completely sold out and a further six concerts were announced, including two extra dates in London's Shepherd's Bush Empire. The revised tour finished on 22 December 2007 at Glasgow's Carling Academy. Paul Banks commented: "None of us could have predicted the overwhelming response to the Shed Seven Reunion Tour. This has now turned into the biggest tour that the band has ever undertaken." Although Shed Seven did not undertake a further tour of their own, 2008 saw the band return to two of the UK's biggest festivals; T in the Park in Balado, Scotland, and V in both Chelmsford and Staffordshire.
Shed Seven have undertaken a tour of Scotland and England in late 2009.
In September 2007, Universal Music and Polydor Records announced the release of a double CD album featuring the best of Shed Seven's BBC recordings. Unlike a "Greatest hits" package, Live at the BBC is an alternate take on the band’s career, and comprises some of the their biggest hits alongside lesser-known album tracks and B-sides. All of the tracks included were recorded live between 1994 and 1997 at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios, or for Radio 1's Live In Concert broadcasts. Released on October 15 2007, the tracklist was hand-picked by the band, with sleevenotes written by Paul Banks and artwork featuring rare photos from the recording of the sessions at the BBC's studios.